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Attention, huge learning spoiler ahead. This idea might hijack the regularly expected street photographer’s learning curve, the problem is that we aren’t sure if this could be a good or a bad thing for you. Perhaps street photography reaches maturity when we stop worrying about gear that much, and then we rather invest in high quality walking shoes, or we end up being more interested in learning more about how social culture works.
No matter the set of priorities, books are always a great companion. And we are not talking about technical manuals that promise to transform you into a talented street photographer after reading some pages. No, we are talking about photo books and some well written narratives that will inspire you into watching the world around you in a slower and more conscious way.
This wasn’t intended to be a commercial book but a catalog curated by The Art Institute of Chicago. This is a huge retrospective of Koudelka’s work, from his early photos to his more advanced projects nowadays featuring the urban aftermaths of war.
David Gibson – 100 Great Street Photographs (2017)
Curated by the man himself, this is a true masterpiece which offers a global perspective of contemporary street photography, so expect a lot of emerging and rarely recognized talent here.
Geoff Dyer – The Ongoing Moment (2007)
Despite the fact that this book depicts a handful of photos, it is a sublime journey through the history of photography with a huge inclination towards street work. Here you’ll find some common themes that have fascinated photographers worldwide through the history’s overall.
Joel Meyerowitz – Where I Find Myself: A Lifetime Retrospective (2018)
A photo book collecting the very best pieces of work is a milestone that few photographers have had the pleasure of reaching out. Therefore, a retrospective of such an important name like Meyerowitz deserves some nice and slow aesthetic consumption.
Valerie Jardin – Street Photography: Creative Vision Behind the Lens (2017)
This book is a sincere approach to photography, every single photograph in the book comes with a brief story about how they were made. This is way better than having a manual about exposure and composition; this is a personally guided journey through street photography.
Jeff Mermelstein – Sidewalk (2000)
We’ve all being dwelling from sidewalk to sidewalk as street photographers, they have turned into our quotidiane stage, but how well are we aware of that? Take a look at Mermelstein’s perspective, and you’ll definitely start to see sidewalks with a more acute eye.
Kristen Lubben – Magnum Contact Sheets (2017)
More than a book this is a true school for photographers. We’ve all made this idea that iconic photos have made with a single shot, but the truth is quite different from that. Don’t get us wrong, this is extremely positive because it invites us to think that we can actually make meaningful work too. The true magic happens during the editing (selection) stage of the photographer’s workflow.
Saul Leiter – Early Color (2006)
Saul Leiter has been a big mentor for various street photographers, especially those in the pursuit of color. He had an unrushed perspective of life, and his work deserves an equally slow paced consumption.
Henri Cartier-Bresson – The Decisive Moment (2018)
How can we not talk about HCB? This book is all about his vision of “Images à la Sauvette”, which later on became “The decisive moment” since it sounds catchier. Originally published in 1952, this is a true jewel from the history of photography, and is again available for us thanks to a passionate reprinting effort.
William Eggleston – From Black and White to Colour (2014)
In this magnificently laid book we discover some of his regular obsessions and recurrent themes, banal and ordinary figures that can be traced back to his earliest days as a black and white photographer. Watching the solid refinement of a photographer is always a delight, and this book has it all.
Elliott Erwitt – Elliott Erwitt’s Paris (2015)
It never ends to amuse me how much we can learn simply by watching Erwitt’s work. In this fine selection directed by himself, Erwitt takes us around Paris under his hilarant vision of the world.
Martin Parr – The Non-Conformists (2013)
Right after graduating from art school in the mid 70’s, Parr decided to move to the picturesque Yorkshire Pennine mill town of Hebden Bridge, and for 5 years he simply documented life in all its everyday granditude. This book shows the very best out of that huge body of work.
Trent Parke – Minutes to Midnight (2014)
This books shows the final work of 2 non-stop years and some 90,000 kilometers of Australian wilderness. Here Parke presents a proud but uneasy nation which still struggles to craft its identity from different cultures and traditions. This is a work about a universal human condition that strongly relates to both intensity and anxiety within human nature.
Robert Frank – The Americans (2008)
The masterpiece that changed documentary photography forever. This book depicts a beautiful introduction written by Jack Kerouac himself. It was first published in France in 1958, and has been republished ever since. In just 83 photographs Frank showed us what lay below the American Dream; no wonder why it wasn’t first published in the United States.
Sophie Howarth – Street Photography Now (2012)
Four extremely provoking essays, a priceless conversation between leading street photographers and more than 300 high quality printed photographs; this book has it all for properly triggering anyone into becoming a more committed street photographer.
Helen Levitt (2008)
Nicely introduced by Walker Evans, an inebriating experience that inspires us into watching our hometown in a different way. This book features massive prints of her skilled taken photos in both monochrome and color formats. Many photographers nowadays wrongly think that they need to travel in order to make beautiful street photos, this book will tell you otherwise.
John Maloof and Geoff Dyer – Vivian Maier: Street Photographer (2011)
Even when I think that her work should have went under a stricter curation though, this is a nice book for all those people having photography related existential crisis worldwide. Let me briefly explain this for you, Vivian Maier was a nanny, that was her profession, and she was able to cope photography with her life. Photography is a beautiful and unjealous companion in life.
Søren Berenguer – Barcelona Vertical (2014)
Street photography shouldn’t diminish the habitat where it takes place, and since it is just a technique for approaching real life, it can also capture our urban landscapes too. Berenguer said that Barcelona is a vertical city, and therefore it should be portrayed like that. He made the impossible by shooting all these photos with a medium-format panoramic (film) camera on vertical mode. And listen to us, you’ll drool all over with this bold photo book.
John Szarkowski – Winogrand: Figments from the real world (1988)
Depicting a generous amount of photographs and an overwhelming prologue by Szarkowski himself, this is indeed the best book of Winogrand’s work. Trust us, this well developed and intimate monograph we’ll give tons of visual inspirations. It was produced along the exhibition “Garry Winogrand” held at The Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1988, right at Winogrand’s cusp.
We can’t talk about street photography without thinking about all the complexities that build on society. And we can’t talk about society’s complex stuff without mentioning social stigmas and the outcasted. And we can’t talk about that without recalling Diane Arbus. This book will give you the other side of society through a lens.
Colin Westerbeck & Joel Meyerowitz – Bystander: A History of Street Photography (2017)
What about having a book that recalls the history of street photography in a systematic and flourished way? Well, that is basically what you can get inside this magnificently written book. Here Westerbeck and Meyerowitz explore and discuss the development of street photography, and was hailed as a landmark work when it was originally published in 1994, and quickly became known as the bible of street photography.
Gordon Lewis – Street Photography: The Art of Capturing the Candid Moment (2015)
Here you’ll find clear insights about why street photography is so appealing to a considerable amount of photographers worldwide. This discussion breaks into parallel monologues about the vast array of styles and a personal definition of the author about what makes a great street photograph
Michel Frizot – André Kertész (2010)
Personally speaking, I define Kertesz as the quintessential photographer. You can simply rely only in his work, and still get the wholeness of photography without further visual consumption. This book is quite expensive, but is a wise investment since it recalls the absolute aesthetic of his work.
Peter Galassi & Richard Benson – Friedlander (2009)
This is perhaps the equivalent of Szarkowski’s retrospective on Winogrand. This monumental body of work covers Lee Friedlander’s quotidian vision of the world. It has been highly acclaimed for its design and edition, but don’t expect to consume it all in one single run.
Claudia Gochmann – Fred Herzog: Photographs (2011)
Way before William Eggleston started shaking the art scene with his color photographs, Herzog was documenting life in Vancouver in all its glory. Kadrochrome has been a recurrent choice among many photographers, and this is another example of the rich beauty of the legendary format. Supermarkets, gas stations, bars, urban scenery and above all its working class culture. This book is the largest monograph of Herzog’s work, and it makes justice to his meaningful legacy.
Geoff Dyer – Alex Webb: The Suffering of Light (2011)
Color has to be one of the hardest challenges in street photography, and in this book you can have a strong statement about how it is supposed to be done. The experience one gets while consuming these set of photographs is quite hard to describe, but we highly recommend it to all of you.
Larry Clark – Tulsa (2000)
We all have an idea of what life looks like in the city, but what lies behind that easy to access facade? Larry Clark’s Tulsa offers a precise approach of what some critics have titled as “The Youth Code”. This is a bold publication that will trigger some eerie feelings in you, but we simply can’t deny what happens on the other side of the streets.
Charles Hagen – Mary Ellen Mark (2001)
Mary Ellen Mark was a fierce photographer with so much to teach us in terms of documenting society and above all, life. This humble publication could be seen even as cheating time thanks to the huge amounts of inspiration it can deliver to you.
Hugo Loetscher – Werner Bischof, 1916-1954 (1990)
The young Swiss promise from Magnum will blow your mind away. Stay tuned for a special blog post only about his work, but if you can get this book, you’ll surely have a jewel in your hands. There is so much that needs to be said about Bischof that we can’t even describe this beautiful book.
Rammy Narula – Platform 10 (2019)
Even a small portion of the world can become a magical place if you wait enough and learn to see it through slow paced eyes. Rammy Narula found a quiet and almost ethereal corner in Hua Lamphong, Bangkok Central Train Station. This book offers a consistent look of how light unravels life at this precise place.
Every list is a challenge, and we are sure that this one will keep getting larger through time. We are aware that we have left out a lot of magnificent books, so please forgive us; but we only wanted to share books that we actually own or at least have access to via public and private libraries. Nevertheless, if you have a beloved book that fits under this highly empirical and inspirational way of learning more about photography, please post in the comments below. Just so you know, all the books listed above comply with Amazon’s affiliate program.